The Scream by Edvard Munch

The swing set looms boldly in our backyard, a fortress and a testimony to Jorge*, one of our foster sons.  The young man was 13 when he came to live with us. He loved to swing. He liked to scream-talk loudly as he tried to touch the sky with his feet or twirl the swing and feel it unwind with him on board screeching like a banshee. We constructed the sturdiest swing set we could buy down by the lake, away from the house pointed so Jorge’s voice would not carry to our house or the neighbor’s.

The first swing set not only tipped over the first week but lay in pieces on the ground. Jorge was sad.  Despite being the size of a ful-grown man, he loved to swing long and hard. Although swing sets are not made sturdy enough, we finally we found a man who would Jorge-proof the swing set.

Additional enforcement legs were added so that each side had three legs wide enough apart to drive a riding lawn mower through.  Each of the six legs was buried in at least three-feet of concrete. It worked great for him for the three plus years he lived with us. But when he left our home, it couldn’t go with him. We tried to move it. We just couldn’t get it out of the ground.  And it still stands there today.  Unmovable. Untouchable. Impervious to disruption. Silently screaming.

When I look out my dining room window I think of Jorge, the young man who liked to swing.  I see his fortress. Imaginary things happened there. No one came in and no one went out.  You could go talk to him but he didn’t respond.  He was lost in his world, one that had a swing set encased in concrete. The world he created was built to keep out what my daughter would call “world suck.”  It was his way of fighting against the stuff that brought him down.  Memories.  Thoughts.  Childhood. Abuse. Neglect. Hunger. Encroaching adulthood.  Expectations of how life should be.  Rage. Anger, without an effective method to process.

His desire seemed to be upending anything that started to look “normal” in his life.  Normal equals bad. This is something we “normal” people can’t understand.  But who or what is “normal”?  The “normal” he grew up with, his family of origin, were where his greatest hurts occurred.  So he created a place where he could keep out the bad stuff for just a while. And though he was with us for more than three years, it was not long enough to help him understand we weren’t the same kind of  “normal” as the “normal” people who hurt him.

There’s a whole group on the internet that talks about fighting world suck.  I say good luck with that. It’s a worthy ambition.  Sometimes world suck sucks us in and we find ourselves standing toe-to-toe with our teenager yelling about who should have put the fork in the fork drawer and not in the spoon drawer.  Or sometimes we just pass silently by, lost in our own worlds.

Whatever the process, we do have decisions to make about how to take a first step towards inviting a family member, an old friend or a new acquaintance to step out of the swing set fortress.  We might discover that whatever makes them scream, also makes us scream, as well.  Together, we might just find a normal moment to scream together.  Or, we might both learn that perhaps the world doesn’t suck as much as we once thought.  Maybe, possibly, rage can be overcome by peace, sadness by joy, death by life.

Maybe there is hope after all; because to tell you the truth, I think we all need to fight just a bit more against world suck. Even if it means letting out a blood-curdling scream every now and then. I have a feeling Edvard Munch knew what that was like and so did Jorge.

What about you? What would you like to scream about?

*not his real name